Viewpoints

Progressives find their voice in SLO County

The SLO Progressives co-hosted “Activism 101,” a half-day training event in SLO.
The SLO Progressives co-hosted “Activism 101,” a half-day training event in SLO. ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

On a rainy morning in San Luis Obispo, I met with Nick Andre of SLO Progressives, a group that emerged from Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. Prior to the meeting, I’d imagined him as a starry-eyed idealist.

Instead, Nick turned out to be a pragmatic business manager with a work ethic like a draft horse.

We sat alone on the chilly back porch of Nautical Bean Café, away from the cozy-yet-crowded tables inside, so that we could talk politics without annoying anyone. I asked him what SLO Progressives’ goals were for the future. His response surprised me.

“We’ve already achieved many of them,” he said. When I pressed him for information, he told me how the group had already secured voting seats in the Democratic Party, both at the local and state levels. Then, he explained the maze of rules and procedures he and other members of SLO Progressives navigated to earn those seats.

“We wanted to move Democrats toward a stronger ‘working people’ message,” he said. “To achieve this, we decided to become an official ‘Democratic Club’ so that we could exercise the local and state voting rights that arise from a Club charter.”

Nick explained that chartering a new Democratic Club was a long, detail-oriented process that required significant research, paperwork and commitment by volunteers. He admitted spending at least 50 hours a week himself on the project. That’s in addition to his full-time web development business, Kumani Inc, and consulting for the Cal Poly Small Business Development Center.

The SLO Democratic Party voted on SLO Progressives’ new club charter after the national election. Crucial to the effort were endorsements by two members of the SLO Board of Supervisors.

“Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill recognized that our energy and organizing skills were needed,” Nick said, “and we convinced the established party members that our club would be beneficial.”

SLO Progressives became a chartered Democratic Club two weeks after the national election.

SLO Progressives quickly leveraged their network and messaging in early 2017, landing the entire slate of 14 Democratic Party delegate seats in Assembly District 35, including a coveted seat at the statewide Executive Board. After a social media campaign to explain the importance of a delegate election, supporters stood in the rain for two hours to cast their votes.

“Our focus is on electoral politics,” Nick said, “we’re revitalizing the Democratic Party from within.”

I asked him if similar organizing has been done in other Assembly Districts in California, expecting SLO Progressives to be an exception to the rule. Again, he surprised me.

“Progressives have stepped up,” he said, “winning about 60 percent of all Democratic Assembly District Delegate seats statewide, with activists in other states working to do the same.”

For the statewide effort, Nick built a nuts-and-bolts website, ADEMS2017, to inform voters of their polling location and advocate for progressive voices in the Democratic Party.

SLO Progressives’ website, which Nick also designed, states that the group intends to stimulate active interest in progressive issues, including single-payer Medicare for all, campaign finance reform, open primaries, tuition-free public college, bold climate change action, opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty, support of labor unions and addressing racial, gender and economic justice issues.

“SLO Progressives wants to inspire working people; to do that, our party must refuse to capitulate to corporate and big money interests.”

I asked him to elaborate. He said most Americans are struggling to make ends meet and are frustrated with the growing income inequality in our country. “People deserve candidates who they can trust to build a sustainable economy for everyone. Trust comes from delivering results in tangible, real-world ways.”

While Nick was passionate about the issues, he lit up when talking about the process.

“We’re vetting candidates for as many local seats as we can get,” he said, “from the water board to the school board. We’ll nurture candidates and they will not have to go it alone. We have tons of support — both in numbers and financially.”

This week, Nick was elected a vice chair of the SLO County Democratic Party’s Central Committee. This leadership role leverages his talents in the local group and infuses new progressive energy into the local Democratic Party.

SLO Progressives has a monthly meeting at the SLO Guild Hall on South Broad Street; the next one is Thursday, March 23, at 6:30 pm. Organizers will hold a town hall-style meeting with newly elected delegates. Anyone who is interested in learning more about SLO Progressives is encouraged to attend. Plus, they’ll have a food truck. I know. I’ll be there.

Kristi Johnson is a patent lawyer and writer who lives with her husband in SLO. She has two college-aged children. Find her at writer.kristi@gmail.com; or Twitter @khagenjohnson.

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